Former New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers describes Amanda López Askin as a “fantastic public servant.”
López Askin “was always committed to the institution” during her time as a member of NMSU’s governing board, Carruthers said. He recalled being impressed from the day he first interviewed López Askin and decided to recommend that Gov. Susana Martinez appoint her student regent.
“It was not about her. It was about the institution, what’s best for the institution, how to make the institution more effective,” Carruthers said.
Following a series of failed attempts to find consensus, members of the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners decided on Tuesday to name López Askin, a Democrat, the next county clerk, just 56 days before the Nov. 6 general election she’s now tasked with overseeing.
López Askin replaces Democrat Scott Krahling, who resigned last week after an internal county investigation determined that his “intimate relationship” with an employee over nearly two years violated county policies and had a “negative impact” on the office, creating “the perception among some employees of favoritism and preferential treatment.”
A motion to appoint López Askin to the job during Tuesday’s meeting initially failed on a vote of 2-3. After repeat failures to find consensus on several applicants, Commissioner Billy Garrett decided to change his mind and support López Askin when she pledged to keep Lindsey Bachman as chief deputy clerk. A motion to promote Bachman to be county clerk had also failed on a vote of 2-3.
The successful vote to appoint López Askin was along party lines, with Democrats voting for her and Republicans against.
López Askin was among those expressing surprise that she landed a job that had drawn 14 applicants, including other familiar names in the political realm.
“When I looked at the list of candidates, I definitely saw that there was a wide range of experience and service and education, and I just kind of hoped that I was in the top five,” López Askin said in an interview. “So I’m pleasantly surprised and really honored.”
She will serve out the remainder of Krahling’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2020. She will be eligible to run for election to the office in 2020 if she chooses.
López Askin, 44, is a native of Las Cruces who graduated from Oñate High School in 1992. She holds a bachelor’s degree in family and child science, a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, and a doctorate in educational leadership administration, all from NMSU.
Since June 2005 she’s been a school mental health advocate for the state Department of Health. Her prior career was in mass media, with an emphasis in local radio. And she served as the NMSU student regent, appointed by the Republican Martinez, from 2015-2017.
Notably missing from that list of experience is any time spent working on elections or overseeing other things the clerk’s office is tasked with doing. López Askin has also never run for office. But she said there aren’t many people who can jump into this job with previous experience working on elections. She said she has “a lot of experience as a voter” and as someone who is “really invested in the process and who really believes in transparency and fair elections.”
López Askin addressed her lack of elections experience in her application letter to the county commission, writing that while “the scope of my work in my current position is different than the County Clerk role, the process of providing expertise, support, and technical assistance to others is the same, and I believe my experience, skill set, and innate enthusiasm would serve the role well.”
Carruthers, a Republican, said he has no doubt López Askin is up to the task.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the choice they made, and I think they’re going to find that she will be as absolutely dedicated to the voters as anybody would be,” he said.
López Askin has been an active community member. In addition to her time as an NMSU regent, she’s served on several other boards, including the Las Cruces nonprofit ACTion Program for Animals.
“I have consistently lived my personal and professional life in service,” she said.
In her application letter, López Askin wrote that the skills most vital to her success “have been relationship building, communication, and understanding the needs of those I am serving.” Those may be critical as she takes charge of an office where morale has taken a hit because of Krahling’s actions.
“I think when any person, place or organization has been hurt or deeply affected emotionally by something, you have to acknowledge it, you have to name it,” López Askin told NMPolitics.net. She said she would create space for employees to express any emotions, including frustration.
“I hope they also have some solutions as well, and I’m really going to look within the organization,” she said. “In the meantime I’m going to be fair, positive and a leader that’s looking forward.”
She had nothing to say about Krahling.
“I just can’t go there. It’s too heavy, and it involves his family and his personal life, and it’s not my place to make any statement,” López Askin said. “I just have to move forward and hope my leadership can help not only the staff at the county clerk’s office but also the community regain some faith in the office.”
López Askin has submitted her resignation to the Department of Health. Her last day there is Sept. 21, and then, she said, she will “jump in” to the county clerk job. She said she will be making a plan with Bachman to “meet all the needs that are upcoming,” including the Nov. 6 election.
In the meantime, Bachman, who López Askin called “capable, bright, motivated and connected to the staff in the county clerk’s office,” is in charge. Krahling hired Bachman to be chief deputy clerk in April.
“I think Lindsey’s great,” López Askin said.
Bachman, on Facebook, expressed confidence in López Askin.
“What we needed in a Clerk was someone willing to do the tedious work that will ensure our office operates above the fray, that it is one that inspires pride in the community as well as in its staff,” she wrote. “The hardworking employees of the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office deserve that kind of leadership. And all of us who call this county home deserve it too.
“I am confident that Amanda will work hard to see that important work accomplished, and I will be here to support her every step of the way,” Bachman wrote.